In the age of the foodie, kitchen supply stores offer a dazzling array of cooking gadgets. Food can be sliced and diced a dozen different ways -- but you'll pay top dollar for the tools to do it. Creative chefs are always looking for shortcuts and savings, including turning cheap everyday tools into awesome cooking accessories. Here are 14 kitchen tools that can be bought for less at the hardware store.
Roasting a whole fish on a cedar or hickory plank infuses the dish with natural smoky flavors, and the chunk of wood looks great as a serving dish. Multi-use wood planks are sold by hardware stores online for about $6 for two. Fancier versions that do the same job, but have internal rods to prevent warping, go for $50 or more at kitchen stores. It makes more sense to just let a plank warp and spend a few dollars for another one when needed.
Calcium hydroxide, known as pickling lime, serves many culinary functions, such as preserving canned foods, keeping pickles crisp, and converting corn into hominy for tortillas. Boutique stores such as Kitchen Krafts charge about $8 for a 1-pound bag. The same brand and size can be found for less than $4 at many hardware stores.
Cheesecloth is useful for straining chunks out of sauce or the fat off bacon and wrapping herbs for soup so they won’t fall apart and leave stems or leaves floating in the pot. A square yard of cheesecloth goes for about $5 at kitchen specialty stores, which is more than 40 cents a square foot. Home Depotsells twice the amount of 100 percent cotton cheesecloth for a little over $3, or less than 20 cents a square foot.
Shears have many uses in the kitchen, from breaking down poultry to opening cartons and snipping herbs. They come in different shapes, sizes, and materials, but a heavy-duty pair made of stainless steel is best for the kitchen. Prices at culinary specialty stores start at $16, while hardware stores sell similar products online for about $11.
Fans of crème brûlée, or cooks who like impressing dinner guests with fancy tools and flame, can save by buying a torch at the hardware store. Fancy foodie torches start at $25 and go up to $160, while no-frills hardware store versions can be found for $15. The torch may not have the same sleek appearance, but the functionality is identical.
Pliers help cooks remove all the little bones from a fish. Many professional chefs use basic needle-nose pliers, which sell for less than $6at the hardware store. The aptly named “fish tweezers” cost quite a bit more at a specialty store, with the cheapest model starting at $15. But there's no need to pay for a nice name when a plain old pair of stainless steel pliers do the job just as well.
A simple steel scraper can be used to cut and transfer sticky dough or move chopped vegetables from the cutting board to the pan, among other uses. Specially designed for kitchen use, these tools cost about $10. A similar tool is available at a home improvement store for just $5. As a bonus, these spackling tools are often made of carbon steel rather than stainless steel, a premium alternative used by many professional chefs.
Before there were microplane cheese graters and citrus zesters, furniture makers used wood files to achieve the same effect. Home Depotsells a basic microplane for $9, while Sur La Table offers a comparable product for $15. Keep it old-school and save money by using carpenter's tools in the kitchen.
A muddler is used to smash ingredients to release their flavorful properties, often when making cocktails. Especially now that home bartending has become trendy, cocktail-focused retail outlets charge a premium for even simple tools. Any blunt wooden object can be used as a muddler, such as a wooden dowel that costs less than $7from a hardware store. Compare that with a fancy object of nearly the same proportions for double the price.
Using slate instead of a platter is elegant and functional, but shopping at a culinary store means paying a premium -- upward of $15 for the smallest pieces and well over $20 for anything large enough to present to a crowd. At a hardware store, slate tile can be found for less than $5a piece, making chichi presentation far more affordable.
Cooking can double as stress relief, especially if a recipe calls for tenderizing or flattening meat by banging it with a mallet. Making homemade crushed ice or applesauce can be similarly therapeutic. The point is, a full kitchen needs a good hammer, and cheap rubber mallets from hardware stores that go for less than $5get the job done well. Opt to buy a similar tool with a name such as “meat tenderizer” at a kitchen shop and the price can surge nearly three times as high.